Hey! Where'd my money go?
When a character is poor, there's no better way for him to say "I have no money" (due to Perpetual Poverty
or a Broke Episode
) than to have moths emerge from his wallet when he opens it. It's also the perfect way to show that a character with tons of money at his disposal is a complete skinflint
. Alternately, the character can make a great show of pulling the pockets of his pants inside out (an act that might also be accompanied by the appearance of moths). Double points if the character does both
For the most part, this is an Animation Trope
, possibly because actors didn't much like fragile flying insects in their pockets, though it isn't often used anymore
even in cartoons. Little to no relation with Macabre Moth Motif
. Contrast Bat Scare
, in which the startling appearance of flying creatures indicates a location is unexplored or abandoned.
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Anime and Manga
- Pokémon: Happens to Team Rocket regularly.
- Happens in an Ivy The Terrible comic strip in The Beano (with Ivy's dad pulling at his pockets).
- The Beano used it pretty much any time any character took out a wallet or otherwise searched for money. Unless their gimmick was being incredibly rich, of course; sometimes in this case moths would fly out wearing tiny top hats or carrying diamond rings.
- This was pretty much guaranteed to happen to Scrooge McDuck in Disney Comics whenever he opened his wallet or change purse. Meant to indicate that because he was a miser, he opened his wallet very seldom.
- It occurs during the "Rhapsody in Blue" segment of Fantasia 2000, to the man in the diner.
- In The Mask, the title character has a moth fly out of his pocket to show how poor he is.
- The opening of The Thief and the Cobbler has the titular thief opening woefully poor Tack's wallet in his sleep, only for a few moths to fly out.
- In the The Three Stooges short "From Nurse to Worse", Moe and Larry pry open Curly's money purse (that he keeps around his neck, hidden beneath layers of shirts), and moths fly out. Inside is a single moth-eaten dollar bill.
- Used as a plot point in the children's book McBroom Tells the Truth by Sid Fleischman: Josh McBroom buys a seemingly worthless farm for everything in his wallet, and when it turns out to be valuable land, the swindler who sold the land demands it back, saying that McBroom still owes him the moths that flew out when he handed over the money.
Live Action TV
- In one episode of The Muppet Show, when Kermit checks the theatre's cashbox, he comments, "Three moths and a washer... More than we usually have."
- In Calvin and Hobbes, it happened once when Calvin's dad was paying Rosalyn's baby-sitting bonus and there was nothing left.
- Lampshaded in a Liō strip, where Lio's dad is shown with a package of "Wallet Moths" used to trick Lio into thinking he's broke.
- In the Mellow Brick Road music video by Pogo, the Scarecrow indicates his lack of brains by pulling off his hat and having a moth fly out. Not quite this trope, but clearly drawing upon the same imagery to indicate "empty."
- An episode of Woodworking For Mere Mortals starts with a skit made to look and sound like a silent film. A boy walks down a road and fails to find any money in his pocket. It being a silent film, we get a closeup of him pulling his pocket inside out to indicate this in lieu of any dialog. See it here.